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Sunday 19 August 2018

What would the founding fathers of Fianna Fail have made of this week's farce?

What would Dev have thought of Brian Cowen's radio interview? Or Sean Lemass? The farce of this past week would have the founders of Fianna Fail spinning in their graves.

The founders of the state were not known for their sense of humour or for late night renditions of Ponchatrain. The Pool Song, a previous favourite of Cowen's repertoire, would have appalled Dev and his companions.



Imposing

Brian Cowen should read his history books. Nations turn to strong and imposing figures in times of crisis. The Wall Street Crash led to the dictators of the 1930s, the oil and industrial relations crises of the 1970s to the era of Kohl, Thatcher, Reagan and Mitterrand.

We had our own haughty leader, appropriately named Haughey, not known for bursting into song at late-night events.

When his style and cult went out of fashion, recent Ireland preferred its modern leaders to be 'hail fellow well met', capable of sharing a pint with the lads in Fagan's in Drumcondra or Hiney's of Ferbane.

That was not the form of Bertie's and Brian's predecessors. And it is unlikely it will be tolerated in his successors.

De Valera was a classic old-style leader that countries opt for in hard times, a model of frugality and austerity. Nobody ever thought of investigating whether he overcooked his expenses by half a crown, sampled the wares of a woman of negotiable virtue, or took an extra glass of punch because he was, correctly, considered above suspicion.

In return, he ran the country like a secondary school and was serially re-elected.

Dev looked askance at those leaders at home (Sean T O'Kelly) or abroad (Churchill) who would be rendered ineligible for office because of their very public intoxication.



Famous

Recently released State papers indicate it was assumed by Dev, and even by the British ambassador in Dublin, that Churchill was drunk when he issued the famous 'nation once again' statement during WWII.

While everyone knew Churchill spent most of the war plastered, Harry Truman also spent much of his working day under the influence of his breakfast of three or four shots of Schenley's bourbons.

Richard Nixon drank copious amounts of rum and coke and was barely coherent for some of his public appearances. Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson and Margaret Thatcher preferred Scotch.

The old philosophy was that sobering times did not necessarily require everyone to be sober. Dev, conscious of Irish stereotypes abroad, did not share daiquiris with John F Kennedy.

Nor was Dev a great fan for the wireless or the telly. His 'dancing maidens at the crossroads' speech became famous because it was one of the few times that the elder statesman ever took to a microphone, a broadcast aimed at emigrants in the US on St Patrick's Day, 1943.

TV was worse. Dev's address on the opening night of RTE television was totally devoted to the dangers of the new medium.

Even in the 1980s, it was unusual to hear the Taoiseach on radio. Access to CJ Haughey was restricted to questions at public events shouted by a brave reporter. When he did TV or radio, it was for a grand address, such as the one in which he asked to tighten our belts.

It was a protocol that Brian Cowen probably regrets is no longer still in place. Modern politicians make themselves available in the midst of the most hectic schedules.

All changed when Sean Lemass took power. The average age of the Cabinet plummeted and a bright young team of Cabinet ministers were all promoted together.



Mused

Donough O'Malley, Charles Haughey, Jack Lynch, Paddy Hillery and Brian Lenihan were all given enormous power by the standards of the time, at a comparatively young age.

Some have mused that they were too young and prone to abuse the power.

O'Malley, Lenihan, Haughey and Micheal O Morain became the brat pack of the new regime and defined the terms of the politician of the generation, last to leave the bar and first up for strategy meetings the following morning.

They were better at strategy than their predecessors, so people who noted they were better at partying as well assumed the two went hand in hand.



Ignominy

The party that knew how to party was Fianna Fail. But the rest of them were not called political parties for nothing.

Even a DUP councillor or two would risk the ignominy of their leader with a late-night session at their annual conference.

Today Brian Cowen is the victim of a culture he did not create. Someone has raised the bar without telling him first. And not the type of bar he was familiar with.

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